The Future of the Teaching Workforce

By Professor Sam Twiselton, Director of Sheffield Institute of Education at Sheffield Hallam University and Astrea Trustee

Wednesday 8 December 2021

The last couple of years have shown us how challenging teaching can be and has reinforced why we need to pay attention to how we recruit and retain teachers if we want the workforce to continue working wonders.

Fortunately, the last few years have also seen fantastic steps forward both in terms of national policy, and the potential that good academy trusts can bring to the system.

Up until recently, teaching suffered in comparison to other graduate careers which had visible support structures in place, as well as clear pathways for advancement. New teachers were left unsure of how they could advance in their careers, with moving into senior leadership seemingly the only option for an ambitious and hard-working teacher.

Since then, the Department for Education has brought in several initiatives aimed at supporting teachers at different points in their careers, which will lead to better retention and ensure our teaching staff can keep developing.

Policies like the Early Career Framework are key for supporting new teachers for their first couple of years and providing specialised development opportunities. This is so important as otherwise fresh teachers can leave the profession in droves, disillusioned by the lack of support and unsure this is the correct career for them.

For more experienced teachers, the revamped National Professional Qualifications will provide key areas of development at different points of professionals’ careers. These fully funded development opportunities are crucial for teacher retention and for helping teachers specialise in their roles and find their areas of expertise.

However, it is crucial that schools are willing to support teachers in taking up these opportunities. They need to both recognise the potential of the roles they equip them for and also support them while they’re learning. There’s no question that it is more work for put-upon school leaders to release their staff for development opportunities, let alone assigning mentors, supporting new initiatives, and providing sufficient responsibility for new areas of work.

This is an area where academy trusts can have a real advantage. Trusts like Astrea can use these national initiatives as the basis for developing staff, as well as aligning their own support and progression pathways. They can also provide opportunities for development for staff in different schools, giving them a far wider range of experiences and helping maximise specialist expertise across the whole trust.

Although there was a real boost in the number of teacher training applications in the early stages of the pandemic, that does now seem to have calmed down. I would also caution against getting too excited with those numbers as it appears to be a direct response to the challenges of the pandemic, which could indicate too many people getting into teaching for the wrong reasons – seeing it as a safe and secure role rather than the vocation it is.

Because while teaching is unquestionably rewarding, it is also so hard. We can’t waste resources on training and developing new teachers who won’t stay in the role, or who saw it as an easy way to make a living. This leads to a conveyor belt of different teachers coming into the classroom, which doesn’t help the school or the children. You have to want to make a difference, every day.

And it has never been harder for school leaders. The pandemic has been incredibly challenging for all of us, but especially those who have so many people looking to them for guidance, and who were given nothing to offer. Anecdotally we are hearing more and more about school leaders who are contemplating early retirement, and after the last couple of years, it is impossible to blame them.

That’s why we have to keep concentrating on teacher development and retention, to make sure we have the leaders of tomorrow coming through, and that they are given the support and development opportunities they need to be effective leaders in the future.

There are unquestionably reasons to be cheerful about this, but there are still so many challenges ahead. We have to make sure our teachers are supported to meet them, and trained to overcome them.